Employees of Don Meredith say Senate compensation process ‘totally unacceptable’

Employees of Don Meredith say Senate compensation process ‘totally unacceptable’

Employees of Don Meredith say Senate compensation process ‘totally unacceptable’

OTTAWA — Two women who worked for former senator Don Meredith say the independent process established by the Senate to determine compensation for Meredith’s harassment victims is “totally unacceptable” and is re-victimizing them.

The two women spoke to The Canadian Press with their lawyer, Brian Mitchell. They have not been named publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve their privacy as victims of harassment and abuse.

They say they feel they’re being bullied into taking part in a compensation process they believe is unfair and opaque.

“It’s disgraceful to the Senate. They keep on calling themselves honourable members and, to me, this whole process is nothing but dishonourable,” one of the women said.

“I will not engage in a process where I can harm myself more than I have been harmed by this institution.”

The second former Meredith staffer agreed, saying she took a job with the Senate because she believed in the importance of the work there.

“I think that’s why it hurts so much that this institution that I did hold in very high regard seems more focused on protecting itself than doing the right thing.”

Former Quebec appeals court judge Louise Otis has been hired as an independent evaluator and has been tasked to speak with six former employees in Meredith’s office and review all materials from a four-year investigation completed last year by the Senate ethics officer.

That probe found Meredith repeatedly bullied, threatened and intimidated his staff and repeatedly touched, kissed and propositioned some of them.

Meredith, who was appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, resigned in 2017 after a separate investigation led to an internal recommendation that he be expelled over a sexual relationship he had with a teenage girl.

He has not faced any criminal charges.

The Senate’s powerful internal economy committee launched the current evaluation process last month to determine ”potential compensation” for Meredith’s former employees.

Those participating in Otis’s evaluation are not allowed to use lawyers, their legal costs won’t be covered and Otis’s final decisions on compensation will not be binding on the Senate, according to letters sent to the former staffers by the Senate’s legal counsel and by Otis.

The correspondence was provided to The Canadian Press.

“If we have a videoconference meeting, you may be accompanied by a support person of your choice, provided the person is not a lawyer as this is neither a trial nor a judicial hearing,” Otis’s letter to the employees states.

However, if they have any questions or concerns, the employees are encouraged to contact the Senate’s legal counsel — a “David and Goliath” scenario their lawyer says is wholly unfair.

“How can they defend themselves, how can they testify and how can they represent themselves when they don’t have the same level playing field of the Senate as an institution?” Mitchell said.

Sen. Sabi Marwah, the chair of the Senate’s committee on internal economy, declined to be interviewed for this story.

In a statement, Senate spokeswoman Alison Korn said the committee unanimously decided on the current ”impartial, independent and credible process,” which will take all facts contained in the ethics officer’s report as true and proven.

“(The committee) established its process after hearing directly from former impacted employees,” Korn said in the statement.

“As the process is designed to be accessible, no participant is required to have a lawyer to participate. Out of respect for all participants and in order to not interfere in the ongoing process, we will not be commenting further.”

Otis’s determination on damages will be based on other three recent harassment settlements in the RCMP, Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence.

Mitchell, who said he will soon be representing two more of the six victims, says his clients are concerned that Otis is not being asked to consider the Senate’s duty to protect them as employees.

“Without looking at the liability and accepting liability of the Senate for the acts that happened to these victims from the date of their employment with Sen. Meredith to the date hereof is, we suggest, an area that we hope the terms of reference will be amended so that it will be a full review of all damages that have been suffered,” Mitchell said on behalf of his clients.

Last week, Mitchell sent a letter to members of the internal economy committee outlining his clients’ concerns and asking for the process to be changed.

Senate lawyer Charles Feldman wrote back saying the process was established to provide redress to the employees affected by Meredith’s conduct, and that the internal economy committee wasn’t required to do anything to respond to the ethics officer’s findings, but has done so “of its own volition.”

The two women say this makes them feel as though they should be happy the Senate is taking any action.

“You cannot put us through six years of waiting, keep us on tenterhooks for six years, and then suddenly say the time is now and also take it or leave it,” one of the women said.

In a statement of regret made last month in the Upper Chamber, Marwah said that Meredith’s actions warrant “an unequivocal condemnation from the Senate and from all senators.”

The two former employees do not accept this as an apology, but rather as senators telling them they are merely sorry they feel badly about their experiences, the women said.

Tuesday was the deadline for the employees to inform Otis if they planned to participate in the evaluation process, but Mitchell says his clients will not take part unless Otis’s terms of reference are changed.

“I don’t want them to pat themselves on the back and say, ‘Look at what a great job we’ve done.’ And I don’t want this process to suddenly become a precedent for future victims of other offices,” one of the women said.

“There is no way that this process can be accepted in 2020 and it is also a slap in the face to any future victims,” the other said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

senate

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

(File photo)
After several years in limbo, Parkland Manor to be torn down

Rimoka Housing Foundation has received funding and approval for the demolition

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

(Photo submitted)
Community Futures brings back Social Media Challenge for 2021

This time the challenge is for non-profits and community groups

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

Most Read